MANY HAPPY RETURNS: There's plenty worth coming back for at Brownstone.
A lot of good but fake Mexican food has been made under the bridge where Prairie Star — and, prior to that, Baja Cantina — used to be located. Brownstone has since brought bistro pretensions to the space, with prices that are quite modest for the South End/Back Bay line. Not everything works, but, with some selections, this could be a place for many happy returns.
You can certainly start with one of the “bites,” such as medjool dates stuffed with feta ($4), which are four large pieces of fruit with hot cheese, similar to a cheese Danish. Or you can try a bar-like appetizer, such as the fritto misto ($9), which features well-fried squid, flavorful mussels, some shrimp, and even slices of lemon and red and green jalapeño, served with a spicy mayonnaise. Plus, there’s crab dip ($9), nicely set out with pita toasts, and chicken lollipops ($7), which are more Bangkok than Buffalo and are glazed with syrupy hot-pepper “squid sauce.” What makes the latter a lollipop is the wing section, the meat of which has been pushed up to create a bone “handle.”
If your fantasy is bistro, have something like the green-bean-and-feta salad ($7), which is nicely flavored by lots of sliced red onions and a fine vinaigrette. Or consider the side dish of roast asparagus ($5). The portion is only six spears of pencil thickness, but the roasting is nicely done so the flavor is concentrated with just a touch of char.
Then the variety ends: entrées are, inexplicably, all bistro. Budget-bistro buffs may well stick to one course and some wine. Veal breast ($18) is one to try. It’s rolled around lots of herbs and sliced into a couple of inch-thick rounds. Underneath is a stew of fresh peas, carrots, wild mushrooms, and onions; one wants only more gravy. The dish is usually presented with gnocchi, the better to spread that mushroom-veal flavor around, but on our night they were out and large spiral pasta were substituted.
Citrus and anise blue cod ($17) features a New Zealand fish instead of a true cod, though it still has the same big flakes and mild white flavor. The platter is picked up with house-pickled beets and lots of arugula on top. Just as good were medallions of pork tenderloin ($17), served with chimichurri sauce, a green purée of parsley, and a rather un–South American quantity of garlic. The yucca fries on the side were a chef’s oddity; yucca is such a starchy root that breading and frying probably reduces the pure starch proportion.
Lemon risotto ($18) featured shrimp, real crabmeat, and artichoke. A number of restaurants have started making risotto out of non-Italian rice and even long-grain rice, as they have done here. They’ve also calmed down about the amount of wine and stock that is classically cooked into the rice, so the dish is less intense, but still good.